Impressive design language and interesting safety systems will push Skoda Octavia Mark III’s prospects in the market, says Shapur Kotwal

Skoda first launched the Octavia in India in 2000. With its ideal blend of space, fit and finish, price and frugality, the mark I Octavia was an instant hit in the Indian market. Today, the company has five distinct model lines on sale here. Of these, the Rapid, Superb and to some extent, the Laura, have been considerable success stories for the company. Both the Rapid and the Superb’s strong value offering — great space and size for the money — have helped push sales. Skoda now wants to apply this simple but very effective formula for success to the new Octavia.

Skoda CEO Winfried Vahland said, “The Octavia is at the heart of the Skoda brand. It embodies typical Skoda genes like lots of room, quality, precise workmanship and the best price-value ratio.” The plan for the Octavia mark III (the successor to the Laura in India), it seems, is to take it half a size up, placing it in a class of its own.

The new car is considerably bigger. Built on VW’s new MQB variable platform, the new Octavia is 90mm longer and 45mm wider than the Laura. The biggest gain for useable space, however, comes from the fact that the front wheels have been moved further forwards and the rear wheels have been pushed back. The wheelbase now stands at 2686mm.

As a result, the new Octavia is likely to set the benchmark for interior space. Climb into the car and the feeling of spaciousness is what appeals to you first; Indian car owners will be particularly pleased. And this is especially true of the rear seat, which feels almost as spacious as that of a Mercedes E-class. The seat back is perfectly angled, support for your lower and upper back is really good, and legroom is huge. Skoda has softened the seat cushioning considerably and the new seats are much more comfortable.

The fit and finish on the inside has also been stepped up. Seams are almost invisible, the quality of plastics is improved for the most part, and the neat and simple design of the dash is quite appealing. The amount of decorative chrome has been reduced, as has the level of ostentation. We hope Skoda brings in some more cheery colours than the black-on-black theme seen on the launch car. That should brighten things up considerably.

Skoda’s new design language is clearly visible on the new Octavia. Sharper, cleaner and more technical, the SK371 (its internal codename) has also been designed to have a long shelf life. The detailing is fatigue free, the bold, confident lines on the bonnet give the snout a chiselled look, and the kick up towards the end of the rear door gives the car a new identity. It gets a hatch at the rear and an incredible 590 litres of boot space. LED tail-lights, drawn out in the shape of a ‘C’ of course, complete the look, which without a shadow of doubt looks as clean-cut and fresh as anything from Audi.

The new car also comes with new and interesting safety systems. There’s a lane assistant that warns you if you stray out of your lane, an automatic braking system that helps you avoid multiple collisions, a fatigue detection system and up to nine airbags. There’s adaptive cruise control, an intelligent light assistant that switches automatically between low and high beams, and traffic sign recognition as well. Other clever bits include a double-sided boot floor (rubber or carpet, depending on what you’re carrying), compartments for waste inside the door panels and an ice scraper as well.

Use of higher-strength steels in the Octavia III makes the new car around 85kg lighter than the old model, and this impacts both performance and economy.

The new Octavia is expected to hit Indian shores by the middle of this year. Despite a much larger footprint, prices are expected to be even more competitive than they are now (the Laura currently starts at Rs. 12.9 lakh for the 1.8 TSI). The EA888 1.8 TSI engine will be upgraded to make around 175bhp in India. There will also be a new automatic version that is sure to attract a whole new set of customers. The base petrol, however, will be a 140bhp version of the 1.4 TSI, the engine seen on the VW Jetta, and is likely to be even more affordable. As earlier, there will also be two diesel versions. Both will use the same 2.0-litre TDI engine, but power outputs could be upped to 120 and 150bhp, respectively. Other engine options for the future include a 105bhp 1.6 diesel and possibly a 200-plus-bhp petrol vRS version, which could hit a top speed of 250kph. A diesel vRS is also likely to make it to Indian shores later.

Despite the gradual shrinking of the executive saloon segment, Skoda is keen to kick-start sales of the new Octavia in India and is quite optimistic about the prospects of the new car. And after getting familiar with the latest offering from the company’s stables, we have to say that this may very well be another potential winner.